Discrimination refers to any instance of treating someone in a less favorable manner on the basis of that person's characteristics. The legal definition of discrimination, however, is narrower than the dictionary definition of discrimination. Under the law, only certain behaviors are considered discrimination and only certain classes or types of discrimination are illegal.
Most free societies believe that all men are created equal. In the United States, for example, these words are found in the Constitution of the United States of America. This means that no one should be looked down upon, treated worse or deprived of opportunities on the basis of his characteristics.
Although the Constitution stipulates this, various forms of discriminatory behavior have persisted in the United States, as well as in other countries. Racism, for example, is a type of behavior in which someone is treated differently, looked down upon or stereotyped on the basis of his race. Sexism and ageism are other examples of such discriminatory behavior.
The law provides certain specific protections against certain types of discriminatory behavior that are most common. For example, in the United State, Fair Housing Laws mandate that no one person be deprived of housing for unfair reasons. Specifically, various laws stipulate that homes must be accessible to handicapped individuals and that a person cannot be denied the opportunity to rent a home because he has children, or because of his race, color, religion, national origin or gender.
Discriminatory behavior is also prohibited in the work place in the United States and in many other countries. Within the US, for example, specific people are protected from being treated unfairly. Those who are provided with protection are considered protected classes.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provides the broadest anti-discrimination principles within the United States. For example, Title VII mandates that no person be discriminated against in the hiring, firing or terms and conditions of employment on the basis of race, religion, gender, national origin or color. This prohibits not only discriminatory behavior in hiring, but also ensures employers do not treat one employee worse than the other when it comes to benefits, work environment or the chance for promotion.
Other anti-discriminatory legislation exists in the US as well. The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits employers from treating people badly or denying them employment due to a disability. The Age Discrimination in Employment act mandates that employees over the age of 40 not be treated any differently than those who are younger. Each of these pieces of legislation aims to stop unfair treatment on the basis of uncontrollable characteristics to achieve a more level playing field for all.